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Go OUTSIDE and PLAY!

Go OUTSIDE and PLAY!

Go OUTSIDE and PLAY!

I heard this refrain all the time growing up, and I’m guessing you did too. We played. And we played outside. In the sprinklers during the summer, and in the snow during the winter. We played tetherball and tag. We played Red Rover and Red Light, Green Light. We jumped rope and roller-skated and biked until we were hot, sweaty, and utterly exhausted. AND we walked. We walked all the time. We walked to our friends’ houses. We walked to the Little League ballpark to watch our friends (or little brothers) play ball. We walked over to the boulevard to gawk at the neighborhood “haunted” (read: vacant and rundown) house. I remember walking to Mr. Baker’s general store where we could get a Coke and some Big League Chew and put it on our parents’ tab! (With their permission, of course.)

One of my favorite memories is of “treasure” hunts that my dad would make for my brothers and me. He would leave clues at locations around town (never too far from our home . . . and grandma’s house was inevitably the last stop) and we would decipher the clues and ride our bikes to each new location. We knew that our dad was cleverly “sneaking” exercise into our day, and the “treasure” was never really “treasurable” (I can’t really remember our prize for making it to the finish. Maybe some more Big League Chew?), but we played outside and loved every minute of it.

And when September rolled around, physical activity was by no means relegated to the weekend alone. P.E. and recess were integral parts of our school day, and we still ran around the neighborhood when we came home from school.

I don’t know how we would have made it through the school day without recess. Just the sheer abandon of it, the freedom from sitting still, the running and jumping and swinging and sliding, those jump rope rhymes that generations of kids somehow just “know” (remember “Cinderella dressed in Yella ” and “Miss Mary Mack”?)

And we might not have loved P.E., but we could grudgingly admit that it was good for us. Oh, how I remember Mr. Fisher’s love of jumping jacks. Mrs. Cole trying to help me get that volleyball over the net. The dreaded “Dodgeball” unit. The surprisingly fun “Square Dancing” unit (which none of us could admit that we actually liked). Working toward the President’s Physical Fitness Award (the only event in which I excelled was the “flexed-arm hang.”)

We were active kids, and we were even active teenagers. We didn’t have the incessant distractions of technology (you can only play so much Pong), and we preferred to actually be in the presence of our friends. Today’s kids (and I’m including —to my dismay —my own) are bombarded with technological distractions, and it’s hard to pull them away from the multiple screens that often dominate their lives.

Here are some rather alarming statistics: one study showed that, in any given week, only 6% of children aged 9-13 play outside on their own AND another study found that children aged 8 to 18 spend an astounding 53 hours a week —yes, you read that correctly, it said 53! — using entertainment media. 

Many of today’s children, whether at home or at school, are rarely active and almost always indoors. So, what’s going on?

WHAT’S GOING ON AT HOME?

DISTRACTION
S: As I mentioned, kids have so many technological distractions: TV/Netflix/Hulu, Xbox/Playstation, iPhone/Android. The never-ending texting sessions (it’s really true: modern kids DO NOT make or answer phone calls- they only text).  

OVERSCHEDULING
A sense of parental competition (My children must be the best at _____) has sent many parents into a frenzy of overscheduling activities for their children. For many parents, it’s not about competition, but, rather, a desire to give their children every opportunity they possibly can. Whatever the reason, many children today lead strangely adult-like, overscheduled lives.  We are busy, busy, people. Parents have little time to supervise outdoor play or to take their children to the playground.
Children don’t have time to just go outside and play with their nonstop daily schedules of team sports, play practice, test prep, musical lessons, language lessons, etc.

FEAR
Safety is a huge issue in our world today, and many parents are reluctant to allow their children the freedom they themselves had as children. Today’s children are rarely allowed to play outside unsupervised. While crime statistics do not show an increased danger of child abduction, today’s parents are so much more aware of the possible dangers. And safety is a real concern.

As a parent of three, I understand the deep desire to keep your children safe, at all costs. But is this cost going to be too high? How can we keep our children safe, but allow them to be kids? Should we give our children the unfettered freedom we had? Or should it be illegal to allow your child to play unsupervised outside? This week, a woman in North Augusta, SC, was arrested for unlawful conduct toward a child for leaving her 9-year-old daughter unsupervised at a local park for several hours while she was at work. Her child is in the custody of the Department of Social Services.
There are no easy answers here, but a deep desire to give our children both freedom and safety.


WHAT’S GOING ON AT SCHOOL?

Many of our students are expected to sit through a seven-hour school day without any physical activity- seven hours of sitting without a break to move around.
Some studies have reported that many schools are not offering any daily physical education classes. One study found that fewer than 50% of today’s young people meet the World Health Organization’s recommendation of at least 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Many schools have, rather alarmingly, eliminated or drastically reduced physical education classes and recess, so those same children who are not going outside to play when they are at home, are also not going outside to play when they are at school.


WHAT HAPPENED TO RECESS?
Studies report that around 40 percent of American schools have cut recess. Schools cite logistical reasons: lack of time, supervision, and resources. Recess is often limited or removed entirely to “avoid disciplinary problems.” Often, recess gets benched to make way for the star players: the classes on which kids will be tested. Schools and teachers are under tremendous pressure to increase test scores, and, with limited time in the school day, recess is the first thing to go.

But kids need recess! Recess is a wonderful place to learn how to get along with other people, to learn how to respect others, to resolve conflicts, to work it out. And, yes, it can be messy and chaotic. But kids need those moments of chaos, of movement, of fun. How can they be expected to sit still for seven hours without it? Studies have shown that students who participate in as little as 15 minutes of play at recess perform significantly better during class. They release some of the anxieties and stresses of school pressures, not to mention loads of excess energy. They need those moments to be physical, to solve problems, and work together.

Certainly, participating in recess is a great way to get kids moving, and with the current childhood obesity epidemic (17 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are obese), we really need to get kids moving.

Some Canadian schools are innovating with new ways to incorporate outdoor play in the school day, creating “outdoor schools.” One school in Toronto has created an outdoor kindergarten classroom, where the students spent at least 75 minutes each day playing —and learning—outside.

So, it’s September and kids are back at school, where they are likely sitting still all day. What can we do? Advocate for recess and physical education at your child’s school- you can make a difference. And when your children get home, tell them to “Go outside and play!”

 Outdoor play is incredibly important for all kinds of development: physical, mental, emotional, social, personal.  Our children need all of that play —that running, jumping, throwing, catching, and climbing—to develop their large motor skills. They need to move their bodies. A lot. They need it for their physical fitness, and also for their mental, psychological, and social fitness. Outdoor play encourages discovery, and sparks creativity and inventiveness. Children learn to express themselves, and they learn about the sights, sounds, and textures of the world around them. Outdoor play requires kids to use at least four of the five senses, as well as their major muscle groups. It helps them develop their minds as well as their bodies. It helps children learn social skills and self-confidence. 
And it lets kids be kids. Run! Be loud! Get messy!